Within a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, lets look for unique sites. Part three – Meanderings through France n° 153
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Once again we go to Herault region and today we take you to Lodève, an ancient city dating way back to the Gallo-Roman era. At that time it was an important trade centre on the roads joining Mediterranean ports to Northern cities. It now is a quiet yet lovely town bathed in Southern sunshine, where culture, architecture and several festivals await visitors. This year, the reopening of its museum undoubtedly is the highlight of the season.
Ever since the Middle Ages, Lodève’s fortune was built on its prosperous textile industry. From 1726 and for 150 years its factories had the monopoly of the making of woollen fabric for the French armies uniforms and it allowed rich textile traders to build magnificent town mansions that still make Lodève look beautiful today.
The “Lodève Museum” is set in one of these big houses, the Fleury House, home of one of French King Louis XV’s prime minister. It reopened last July after four years of intensive works of renovation. The museum is divided into three parts dedicated to earth’s history, to prehistory and to Paul Dardé, a one-of-a-kind sculptor born in a small village close to Lodéve in 1888.
You will be welcomed in the museum by one of his monumental sculpture, The Faun, whose laughing and altogether disturbing face makes you wonder what the artist intended to show us. Paul Dardé was a contemporary of Auguste Rodin and quickly became famous both in Paris and in the USA in the 1920’s. But unlike Rodin, he disliked this fame and the Parisian artistic world and came back to his hometown.
He dearly paid for his independence of mind, sinking into oblivion and extreme poverty. He nevertheless never stopped creating and the Lodève Museum proposes a wide range of his sculptures and drawings. Powerful, expressive or intriguing his works still touch us deep inside. One of Dardé’s most unique sculptures is the War Memorial that he created in memory of Lodéve’s soldiers who died during WWI. Inspired by his own experience as a stretcher-bearer during this terrible conflict, he achieved creating a masterpiece mixing the horrors of war with the pain and distress of the widows and orphans, in a way that we can still understand one hundred years later.
The other two exhibitions are both beautiful and educational. Initially based on local geological and prehistoric findings, they have been greatly enriched and now propose two travels through time. The first one called “Traces of life”, takes us back 540 million years ago and through the four ongoing geological eras. An interactive journey invites you to discover all the geological, geographic or climatic changes that have repeatedly transformed our planet. Researchers from the whole world still go to Lodève to study the famous “Permian Era Slab” where the footprints of long gone reptiles can still be perfectly seen.
The third exhibition tells us about our history focussing on the Neolithic period, a time when men slowly abandoned their hunter-gatherer way of life to invent agriculture. This evolution is exemplified with many artefacts such as tools, clay pots, dolmens, standing stones and cave paintings. Interactive cartoon films liven up this interesting part of the museum.
All the practical information is available on: www.museedelodeve.fr
After visiting the museum don’t miss to go to the “Savonnerie de Lodève”, a provincial annex workshop of the historical Parisian “Savonnerie des Gobelins”. Since the 17th century the “Savonnerie” makes unique luxury carpets, first for the Royals and next for the French Republic. The Lodève workshop was created during the 1960’s to give work to jobless local women. Copying carpets designed in the 18th and 19th centuries or creating new ones designed by contemporary artists, the 30 weavers perpetuate this unique know-how. It takes two to ten years to make one carpet. Patience and meticulousness obviously are a must! The workshop is open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays, by appointment only at the Lodeve Tourism Office.
Lodève, the Salagou Lake, the Navacelles and Moureze Cirques and Saint Guilhem du Desert are all located in a small area of the Herault region and you will be able to discover them all with a minimal driving time between them. It will allow you to explore this beautiful, rich and appealing area. Not to forget its gastronomy and the great wines of the “Terrasses du Larzac”!
More information at:
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes